MLB to eliminate 25% of minor league baseball franchises

April 21, 2020

Update 5:00 p.m.: Represenatives of Minor League Baseball dispute the accuracy of the initial report. 

After launching a steady resistance against Major League Baseball’s proposal to eliminate minor league franchises, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is expected to endorse a plan to remove 40 MiLB teams.

The 40-team reduction comes amid financial uncertainty stemming from the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, which forced both the MLB and MiLB baseball to indefinitely suspend Spring Training and postpone the start of its regular seasons.

Last October, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America reported that the MLB planned to reduce its minor-league presence from 160 teams to 118 beginning in 2021 following the expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) in 2020.

Cooper added that MLB representatives laid out a proposal introducing viable alternatives in cities impacted by the 25% reduction, reporting that the MLB hoped to construct a “Dream League” for undrafted players.

“MLB’s initial plan last year laid out a ‘Dream League’ for undrafted players as well as summer wood-bat leagues for college prospects to replace affiliated ball in many of the cities that were on the chopping block,” explained Cooper. “MiLB operators raised concerns that those proposals were not financially viable over the long term.”

However, MiLB released a statement disputing the accuracy of initial reports. According to the statement, articles reporting an agreement between MLB and MiLB are “largely inaccurate.”

“Recent articles on the negotiations between MiLB and Major League Baseball (MLB) are largely inaccurate,” reads the statement. “There have been no agreements on contraction or any other issues. MiLB looks forward to continuing the good faith negotiations with MLB on Wednesday as we work toward an agreement that best ensures the future of professional baseball throughout the United States and Canada.”

A New York Times report from November of 2019 originally suggested that MLB officials considered eliminating 42 minor league teams. Of the 42 teams listed, 28 play in rookie ball or Class-A short-season ball.

According to the report, four teams–the Chattanooga Lookouts and Jackson Generals of the Southern League and the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and Erie SeaWolves of the Eastern League–are cited as prospective cuts from Double-A, the highest level facing contraction.

The 2019 reports also notes that the entire Appalachian League save for the Pulaski Yankees faces reduction. Pulaski’s 2,821 average fan attendance paced an Appalachian League that collectively averaged 1,072 fans per game.

Should MLB and MiLB representatives agree to the current proposal, each Major League club would retain four minor-league franchises. However, MLB representatives hope to maintain a high level of baseball in cities listed for contraction, with the wooden bat leagues for college prospects operating as a replacement for departing minor league franchises.

Major League Baseball began pressuring its little brother league to contract after identifying substandard training facilities and lengthy travel times due to league realignment. Under the plan, Rookie Ball will relocate to Spring Training facilities.

According to Cooper, MiLB agreed to the contractions with the understanding that compliance will result in a beneficial long-term deal with Major League Baseball, which covers the salaries of minor league baseball players. However, MLB is expected to assume greater influence over minor-league affiliation.

“MiLB has signaled its understanding that the current player development contracts by which MiLB teams and MLB teams reach affiliation agreements will be modified to give MLB teams greater control over choosing their affiliates,“ wrote Cooper.

The MiLB baseball season was scheduled to begin on April 9, though social distancing mandates led to “near-universal acknowledgment” that a minor-league baseball season might not be played in 2020.

While the MLB last month pledged to financially support MiLB players through May 31, an email obtained by Ronald Blum of the Associated Press revealed plans to suspend the contracts of uniform employees, which include managers, full-time scouts, coaches, trainers and other off-field personnel.

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